In June 2020 Disney announced that Splash Mountain, one of the mainstay rides at its U.S. parks whose theme was based on the Uncle Remus Br’er Rabbit story from the studio’s controversial 1946 film Song of the South, would be reimagined based on its more recent film The Princess and the Frog, which gave the world its first Black Disney princess. Today, Disney revealed new details about the forthcoming attraction at Disneyland and Disney World.
The timetable and name for the new rides have yet to be announced, but Disney Imagineering Senior Creative Producer Charita Carter, who is steering the parks’ Tiana project, said her team has been hard at work behind the scenes crafting an all-new story for Tiana and friends that will be set after the events of the film.
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That process has involved a lot of brainstorming, planning and general imagineering. It will also include multiple research trips to New Orleans, just like the Princess and the Frog animation team did 12 years ago, to make sure the final product does the city justice.
“To be able to bring forth the spirit and vibe of this amazing city, we have to immerse ourselves. We have to walk the street and have conversations,” said Carter.
“We want our guests who are from all places around the world to say, OK, this is a really special place,’” she continued. “But it’s also important for our guests who come from New Orleans to say, ‘Yes. This is my home. They did it. They got it right.’ And that’s why we’re so diligent in our research.”
As Carter spoke, an easel over her shoulder displayed a piece of art — all bright colors and brighter smiles — by New Orleans native Sharika Mahdy of the local YAYA Arts Center. It is the first of four works Disney commissioned from Mahdy to serve as a sort of North Star for Imagineers as they develop the ride.
“What we did was, we pitched to her our concept,” said Carter of Mahdy. “We didn’t show her any of our storyboards, we just pitched it to her, because we wanted to see from her perspective, from a native New Orleans artist, how she would interpret what we were saying and how it resonated with her. So she painted this amazing piece, and then in turn when we saw it, it inspired us.”
As envisioned, from the moment a guest enters the ride queue, Carter said they’ll be surrounded by authentic little details to help put them in a New Orleans state of mind.
Once they reach the front of the line, they’ll meet Princess Tiana herself.
“Tiana actually invites us as guests to go on an adventure with her on the bayou,” Carter said. “And the fun thing about this is we, as guests, are active participants in this adventure, so she acknowledges us, and just being the winning person she is, she takes us through this amazing journey.”
That journey ends with a pull-out-the-stops Mardi Gras celebration, but along the way, guests will be reunited with familiar Princess and the Frog characters and critters — as well as meeting a few new ones.
In addition to contributions from Disney Animation, the ride will also feature a next-generation audio-animatronic character that Carter said raises the bar technologically over those used in other Disney attractions.
From an architectural standpoint, the ride’s old track system — a meandering, float-thru indoor boat ride that ends with a 50-foot log-flume-style drop — won’t be substantively changed from its Splash Mountain configuration, she said.
“The ride system, in terms of its ebbs and flows, will be something we’ll be consistent with, but we’re going to wrap a new story around that,” Carter said.
She did confirm, however, that the new Tiana ride will be filled from stem to stern with New Orleans music.
“We’re just going to take that to 11,” said Carter. “We have such an opportunity to give our guests a lot of the music they recognize, maybe with a new twist — and there might even be some new tunes that we incorporate and weave into the story.”
That musicality will be one of the few similarities the new Tiana attraction will have to the old Splash Mountain, which has taken guests on a rousing musical trip through scenes from Disney’s racially problematic Song of the South since 1989 at California’s Disneyland and 1992 at Florida’s Walt Disney World.
Disneyland officials also offered more information on another upcoming replacement project: The Magic Key initiative that’s replacing its popular annual pass program.
Among the revelations:
-Magic Key passes will not be sold at Disneyland ticket booths -Monthly payment options are available for eligible California residents -Most theme park tickets are upgradeable to a Magic Key pass -Those who purchase a Magic Key pass in the first 66 days will also receive a special charter member welcome package
Finally, Disney World and the Service Trades Council Union, which represents many cast members, came to an agreement about Covid-19 return to work safety.
The union issued a statement that said in part, “The Service Trades Council Union and Walt Disney World have reached an Agreement on mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations. In the Agreement, Disney has made the decision to require all STCU represented employees to show proof of vaccination by October 22, 2021.”
The agreement stipulates, according to the union, that “Employees with medical conditions or sincerely held religious beliefs will be eligible to apply for an accommodation through a negotiated process.”
If they do not receive such an accommodation, however, and still refuse to get vaccinated, Disney is authorized to act. “Cast Members who do not comply with the vaccine requirement and do not request a legitimate accommodation, will be separated from the Company with a ‘yes’ rehire status,” says the union announcement.
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